RIGOBERTA MENCHU AND THE STORY OF ALL POOR GUATEMALANS by David Stoll

RIGOBERTA MENCHU AND THE STORY OF ALL POOR GUATEMALANS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An anthropologist’s (Middlebury Coll.) critical reexamination of the phenomenon of Rigoberta Mench£, the Guatemalan peasant awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. I, Rigoberta Mench£, her 1983 memoir, achieved international acclaim; it helped focus worldwide attention on the oppressive actions of the right-wing Guatemalan government and on the plight of the peasants, who were forced to join guerrilla movements to protect their lives and property. Both the book and Rigoberta became powerful symbols of the struggle of indigenous peoples against repressive anti-leftist regimes. While remaining sympathetic to Rigoberta’s general message and to the plight of the Guatemalan peasants, Stoll’s book attempts to unveil the manner in which the elevation of Mench£’s book to the status of myth does violence to the complexities of historical reality. Using tesitmony of local residents and archival sources, in seeking to discover what has been filtered out of Rigoberta’s heavily ideological account of recent Guatemalan history, Stoll focuses on what he reads as a discrepancy between the revolutionary fervor of the guerrillas and the voices of ordinary Guatemalan peasants. He characterizes the average peasant response to events as feeling “caught between two armies”—a far cry from the awakening into revolutionary consciousness described by Rigoberta in her book. Stoll employs possible inaccuracies within Rigoberta’s text to destabilize the unity of her version of events. In particular, he questions her account on two historical points: —Was the guerrilla movement defeated in the early 1980s a popular struggle expressing the deepest aspirations of Rigoberta’s people? Was it an inevitable reaction to grinding oppression by people who felt they had no other choice?— Stoll’s book is not an attempt to debunk Rigoberta’s story, but to serve as a warning that elevating one version of history to cult status inevitably silences a multitude of others.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8133-3574-4
Page count: 432pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998